"If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy."
French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, writer and Catholic theologian
Are you working in a job that you love? Are you doing a skill that comes naturally to you? Can you imagine doing anything else? If you answered Yes, Yes, and...Yes, then you must be insanely happy. It could be healthy to daydream of doing something else, or even partake in different kinds of productive activities that are wildly different from your career. Studies of scientists have shown that the more varied their hobbies, activities, and other professional pursuits are, the more important and numerous their breakthroughs may be. Performing the same task over and over again becomes drudgery, no matter if you're a widget stamper in a factory or a recombinant DNA engineer in a lab. Our minds need diversion in order to focus when it's important.
"Music's always been at the heart of Apple. It's deep in our DNA. We've sold Macs to musicians since the beginning of Macs."
Twenty years ago this month, Apple officially launched OS X. Apple finally had a legitimate PC killer that would kick the Mac vs. Windows debate into overdrive. In 2001, many studios and video editing companies were already using Macs as the foundation for their digital production systems when OS X dropped, but it literally changed the game.
"Simplicity makes me happy."
Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a classic gut-busting routine about Hot Pockets. After expounding on the unsophistication of eating them, he envisions the meeting with the jingle writer:
Do love that jangle.
Do you think they worked hard on that song?
"What do you got so far, Bill?"
"Uh... uh... (sings) hot pocket?"
"Thats good, thats very good.
The jingle is almost as good as your "By Mennen"
Our daily life has us ingesting "jangles" and other ear worms that have become part of our subconscious. Maybe you've heard these simple sounds over and over again:
"Liberty, Liberty, Li-berty, Liberty"
"Nationwide is on your side"
"Double-A, TOOT-TOOT, M C O"
These sounds are almost as familiar as a logo like the Facebook F, the Micheline Tire man, or the Disney mouse ears. These are all trademarked logos and visual advertising devices. Sounds can also be trademarked as well.
"Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech."
Martin Farquhar Tupper
For the first century of our nation's existence, a very select few ever heard their president speak. 130 years ago, technology changed that.
"It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new."
Which name will stick to a new technology? It's usually not the one given to it by the inventor.
“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
Though we may seem as different as night and day, avians and humans may be more connected to each other than you think.
"I think reincarnation is possible. Hopefully, we all get recycled."
We all should recycle. A look at repurposing old audio gear into funky new uses. Plus find out the latest news from Dynamix Productions.
- Lt. Werner: What's going on? Why are we diving?
- 2nd Lieutenant: Hydrophone check. At sea, even in a storm you can hear more down here than you can see up there.”
In the near future, submarines might be using sound waves to communicate through ocean waves.
"Call me a relic, call me what you will
Say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm over the hill
Today' music ain't got the same soul
I like that old time rock 'n' roll."
Digital media is doomed to disappear at some point. Records may outlast hard drives, CDs, tapes, and other formats we haven't dreamt up yet. But what about stone tablets? I take a look at some of the oldest surviving forms of written music. You might be surprised what some of them contain.
"I got a chain letter by fax. It's very simple. You just fax a dollar bill to everybody on the list."
William G.H. Finch had a crazy idea. He liked efficiency, and he liked news. He imagined a future that would merge those together for the average American. Americans like Joe and Jane. When they woke up in the morning, this crazy idea goes, a box in their parlor had just printed out the latest news onto paper with stories and pictures, ready to be poured over while eating their breakfast. Wait – that kinda sounds like the here and now. What's crazy is that this brainchild was born in 1933.
"Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water."
W. C. Fields
100 years ago, a restrictive law popularized a new American art form. PLUS, find out what's been going on in the studios of Dynamix Productions.
"These fellows blow their horns just to see the people jump, I believe."
Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, 1902
At the turn of last century, the automobile was poised to overtake the horse as the preferred mode of personal transportation. But there were detractors to the coming sea change. Much as we see driverless cars as a potential danger today, "horseless carriage" opponents saw the drivers themselves as dangerous. Many laws were passed to protect pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages that seem silly now, but these edicts were taken very seriously back then. For instance, a person was required to walk in front of a self-powered carriage waving a red flag; a motorist had to fire off a signal firework every mile; or a driver had to ring a bell or gong when approaching people or other vehicles.
In 1900, the race was on to find the best engine plant for these new-fangled contraptions. Most were noisy and smelly, particularly the steam-powered auto. The ubiquitous gasoline combustable engine wasn't quite developed or refined yet. From 1895 through 1905 the electric-powered vehicle (EV) was the best-selling automobile, partly because it was quiet, easy to operate with its shiftless transmission, and it didn't belch out smoke. But the noisy, smelly, and ultimately cheaper gasoline and diesel engines would win the race. EVs were expensive, technologically difficult, and recharging and range was limited because electric power grids were sparse and in their infancy.
That's a shame, because our world would be a much quieter place had EVs won out as the dominant transportation method. Imagine walking down Main Street USA and not hearing revving engines or loud buses and trucks. Imagine a NASCAR race where the pit crew wouldn't have to wear hearing protection. But would we be safer? Our ears would be, but maybe not our bodies.
In a recent study submitted to the British Parliament by the charity Guide Dogs, it was found that EVs and hybrids were 40% more likely to be involved in an accident that harmed a pedestrian. Blind and limited-sight people can be in real danger around EVs, not to mention all the distracted pedestrians staring down at their phones. I understand this problem because I once skirted serious injury from an electric vehicle. Downtown San Francisco has all-electric restored antique trolley coaches that ride on rubber tires and are very quiet. As I casually stepped off the curb, I just used my ears to "look" both ways. I stopped myself in the nick of time and within inches of a passing trolley coach.
The alarms, bells, gongs, and fireworks have been sounded regarding quiet cars. Starting this year in the European Union (and next year in the U.S.), EV and hybrid vehicles must make artificial noise under certain conditions. When traveling under 12 mph (18.6 mph in the U.S.) or backing up, these vehicles must produce a sound similar to a combustion engine, but no louder. The sound must also indicate speeding up or slowing down, comparable to what a combustion engine would do.
How are the manufacturers responding? Jaguar's first all-electric car, the I-Pace, has a very "Tron" like sound when it accelerates. Nissan's Canto "sings" as it drives. Mercedes-AMG is working with the rock band Linkin Park to find a sound for their luxury cars. And not to be outdone, Porsche offers a $500 option in their EV sports car Taycan called "Electric Sport Sound," which "enhances the vehicle’s own sound and makes it sound even more emotional — both outside and inside the vehicle."
The laws mandating that EVs sound like smog-belching, gas-guzzling cars has me wondering what EVs would be compelled to sound like if they had won the auto race a century ago. Would we be hearing a clopping and snorting Clydesdale? A stagecoach driver whistling and whooping? Time will tell if any of these new solutions work, otherwise we might have to go back to waving a red flag. In the meantime, I'll need to decide which sound my future driverless all-electric car will have. Right now it's a toss up between the Jetson's flying car sound and a horse-drawn carriage.
"Again and again, the cicada's untiring cry pierced the sultry summer air like a needle at work on thick cotton cloth."
Recording location audio outside can be challenging at best. The video team wants an exterior shot because architecture or a landscape in the background can add to the image. But alas, there are often unwanted sounds like cars, HVAC blowers, and other manmade annoyances that we must work around. There's one sound though that is nearly impossible to eliminate, fix, mask, hide, or yell-at-to-be-quiet. It is guaranteed to ruin almost any exterior recording in the summer: the mating song of the cicada.
These little bug(ger)s come out of the ground periodically (mostly every 13 or 17 years here in the Ohio Valley) to anchor themselves to a tree and incessantly cry out for all to hear. It's not their little vocal chords that are producing these 120-decibel cries. The jar flies are contorting their torsos to flex in and out, causing two tymbals, or ribbed membranes, to vibrate 300-400 times a second. This produces a noise that's as loud as a jet engine and between 3KHz and 16KHz - right smack in the middle of the human speech range.
Human speech generally falls between 3KHz to 5KHz, like the sound of an old-time phone call. The nuances of intelligibility, such as the consonants S, H, F, and so on, are heard above 5 KHz. That makes removing the background sounds of cicadas difficult because you could also remove subtle sounds of speech. Noise reduction software has become very sophisticated today, but dynamic sounds like cicadas (their cry rises and falls in pitch and loudness instead of being drone-like) poses many challenges. We can painstakingly "paint out" some of the offending sounds, but it's best to leave some of it in so we don't lose key frequencies in the voice. If a dialog track with cicadas is heavily edited, then this can result in having cicadas in one clip and not the next. Or falling in one clip and rising in the next. This is jarring to the listener and is very difficult to fix. We sometimes actually add cicada song back in underneath to mask those continuity-challenged edits.
While recording, we can sometimes position the microphone and talent to reduce the cicada song, but inevitably a critter in another tree fires up his belly to blow the take. There's just no easy solution to this dog day dilemma. The sound is so hated, Japanese television has a Godzilla-like monster called "Cicada Man," probably created by a sound engineer. They're so passionately tired of them in Mexico that Raymundo Pérez y Soto penned the great mariachi song "La Cigarra."
But leave it to the U.S. Navy to find the positives in the piercing cicada death song. The Navy is no stranger to harnessing wildlife to help their efforts. They have a marine mammal program that uses bottlenose dolphins and sea lions for mine detection, ship and harbor protection, and equipment recovery. What on earth could they use a cicada for?
The Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Rhode Island has been studying this tiny creature's anatomy with a CT scan-like technology called microcomputed tomography to try and figure out how it makes its loud chirp. They've found that a cicada's two tymbals act as dual speakers when the insect contracts and releases their ribs. It's a highly efficient way of producing twice the sound with one action. And why would the Navy be interested in sound? Why sonar of course. Doubling sonar's efficiency is like seeing twice as far with radar.
It seems that Raymundo Pérez y Soto was ahead of his time in the 1950s when he wrote La Cigarra. He may have foretold the odd marriage of the cicada and the Navy:
Don’t sing to me anymore, cicada
Let your singsong end
For your song here in my soul
Stabs me like a dagger
Knowing that when you sing
You are announcing that you are going to your death.
Tell me if it is true that you know,
Because I cannot distinguish,
Whether in the depths of the seas
There is another color blacker
Than the color of my sorrows.
"It's an interesting place to be. I recommend it."
Astronaut Neil Armstrong commenting about the moon
Every time I hear the timeless phrase Neil Armstrong uttered while stepping on the moon, I can't help but remember the first time I heard it. It was 50 years ago at about 11:00 PM on July 20, 1969. I was eight-years-old and had fallen asleep waiting for them to get out of their strange looking space craft. Our family was vacationing in a cabin on a lake in southern Ohio, and Dad had hauled our portable black-and-white TV from home. We had a lot of trouble getting any TV stations out in the country on that little box. I seem to remember him fiddling with the rabbit ear antennas and positioning all of us at different places in the room like chess pieces so the picture wouldn't flutter.
So, rubbing my sleep filled eyes, I watched a white Gumby-like figure bounce down a ladder and onto the surface of another world. The significance wasn't lost on a boy only eight years into life. Then Armstrong delivered what is probably the shortest, yet most famous speech in all of human history, "That's one small step for man...." We strained not only to see him, but to hear him. "One giant leap for," he continued, "m_-_//_ _nd." What? There was static at the end covering the last word. What did he say? Piece of crap TV we had. We always had to bang on its top to keep it tuned to a channel.
As much as I want to blame it on our TV, the static was in the broadcast from the moon. Even CBS's Walter Cronkite had trouble understanding it during his live coverage. “I didn’t understand,” he said, "'One small step for man.’ But I didn’t get the second phrase.” Communications had been a problem for much of NASA's early years. In the minutes leading up to the horrific fatal fire aboard Apollo 1 during a ground test, the crew was having trouble communicating with Mission Control. “How are we going to get to the moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?," Gus Grissom barked into his headset.
As the lunar module (LM) Eagle descended to the moon's surface that day, Mission Control in Houston had trouble receiving data from it. Just like Dad moving us around for a better TV signal, a switch to and reposition of a different antenna on the LM solved it. But they were beaming voice and data 240,000 miles, so there were bound to be problems. The Eagle had a variety of radios for different activities and purposes, but LM to earth transmissions while on the surface primarily used microwave that combined voice and data, at about the same rate as a telephone modem in the early days of the web. They also employed UHF simplex transmissions, but mostly between the LM and command module that Michael Collins was circling in overhead. Once Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were out of the LM, they deployed a larger dish antenna and pointed it at Houston for a stronger signal than what we heard Armstrong mutter his famous words on.
At the time, we all really knew what Armstrong said if we thought about it. But it seemed like there was another word missing. Armstrong always insisted that he said "That's one small step for (A) man,...," but nobody heard it at the time. The focus had always been on the scratchy part at the end of the speech. That one small word, "a," changes the meaning of the speech, if taken literally. "One small step for MAN" implies all of MANKIND in 1960s parlance, but we knew that he meant "one man" or "one mere human." Granted, Armstrong was exhausted and running on adrenaline at the time he said it. But studies have shown that it's entirely possible that he did say "A man," just very quickly. What's the last word? NASA's transcripts have the speech as "that’s one small step for (a) man,” so officially he said the "a." Maybe.
"Radio is a hungry monster that eats very fast."
Everything today seems to be sped up. We speed to work, we speed to pick up the kids, we speed home. And as if on cue, much of what we watch and listen to is also sped up. Find out more as well as what's been going on at Dynamix recently.
"It was easier just to say it out on a tape than trying to write it because it will take a lot of writing paper in order to get it straight."
Private First Class Frank A. Kowalczyk
Long Binh Post, Vietnam, 1969
Back when it was expensive, or impossible, to call someone long distance, friends and family members would send messages on records and tapes to each other through the mail. Not only was it more affordable, it was a more personal way to stay in touch with each other and have some fun doing it. When I digitize some of these audio letters for customers, and feel like I'm transported back in time that a way that a letter can't take me.
"TV gives everyone an image, but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains."
The recent presidential elections in Nigeria and Senegal stirred fond memories of my childhood. Specifically the "sounds" of Africa I remember growing up with. I haven't had the good fortune to go to Africa, but I've listened to it from afar. In the 1960s and 70s, radio was perhaps at its peak. AM radio stations played the hits, FM radio played the albums, and CB radios were in kitchens and cars. A lot of homes also had a shortwave radio. Today it's the internet that ties us all together. Back then, CBs connected us with our friends, AM and FM connected us with the country, and shortwave connected us with the world.
My favorite saying is, 'If it's too loud, turn it up.'
You often hear the phrase "The shot heard 'round the world," referring to the first shot fired of the American Revolution in Lexington, Massachusetts. Or for us baseball fans, Bobby Thompson's dramatic game-winning home run when the New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers for a trip to the 1951 World Series. Both of these pale in comparison to the 1883 explosion of the Krakatoa volcano. Dubbed as the loudest sound in history, it was also the farthest traveled.
10:40 p.m. “I got about 2,000 college students coming from Walnut Street to 30th to Center City.”
10:46 p.m. “It’s endless, chief. Endless.”
11:11 p.m. “They’re on top of trash trucks. There is to be no one on top of trash trucks, guys.”
11:14 p.m. “We have multiple people on Broad Street swinging on light poles.”
11:20 p.m. “Climbing the trash trucks at 13th and Market.”
11:25 p.m. “I need to get the fire extinguisher out of my trunk. I got a fire on Broad Street just south of South. Someone lit a Christmas tree on fire.”
Philadelphia Police radio transcripts after the Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl
Do you remember the old movies from the 1930s when a radio in a police car would blare out "Calling all cars! Calling all cars!" The diligent policemen would zoom away in their car with the siren screaming. The dispatcher had no idea if the radio cars heard the frantic call because two-way radios were uncommon and expensive. So from the late 1920s until after World War II, most police departments relied on their cruisers having radio receivers only. Today, police use digital radio systems that carry data, video, and other information.
"I bought a Dutch barge and turned it into a recording studio. My plan was to go to Paris and record rolling down the Seine."
Pete Townshend, The Who
I'm conflicted on the topic of recording music at home. The business part of me frets about studios losing out on billable hours. The musician part of me relishes creating art in a non-pressure environment. But the history of artists recording radio-ready songs in their humble abodes goes back further than you might imagine. Let's explore how affordable home music recording for the masses came to be, but also look back at the origins of this revolution in recording.
"Hostilities will cease along the whole front from 11 November at 11 o'clock."
Marshal Foch, the French commander of the Allied forces via radio atop the Eiffel Tower.
This week marks 100 years since the end of the war to end all wars, known today as World War One. In 1918, on the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1,500 days of fighting came to an end. The armistice was agreed upon just six hours earlier in a railway car halfway between Paris and the Western Front. What's remarkable is the speed at which most troops were informed of the impending armistice. This war, like in so many other ways, forever changed the world of communication.
Older, established methods of communications such as semaphore, flags, signal lamps, pigeons, and dogs were used throughout the war. But electronic communications, especially radio, rapidly advanced from wagon loads of equipment to merely bulky gear by war's end. Wired telephony and telegraph were still the primary communications devices, but there were major advances in those as well.
Some inventions that sped up the miniaturization of radios included the valve (vacuum tube), amplifier, and the superheterodyne receiver (a more precise way to tune in distant frequencies). As radios grew smaller, they moved around with the troops on the ground, went to sea, and took to the air. Transmitters were placed in dirigibles and airplanes for pilots to relay back battle conditions. By the end of the war two-way communications between airplanes and the ground, and from pilot-to-pilot was possible. To give pilots freedom, and to reduce the sound of the airplane's engines, a cap with a throat microphone and earpiece was developed. This was the world's first hands-free device. To control chaos at busy military airstrips, the British developed the earliest air traffic control.
But most ground communications was through wires. Many, many men lost their lives running cable in battle zones. The lines were often severed during bombings, requiring deeper trenches to bury them. Ladder-type runs were also employed to ensure that if one strand were broken, the other parallel strand would carry the signal. And early on many of these signals were intercepted by the enemy through induction from the electromagnetic field. Thus, insulation was invented to shield orders from enemy ears. Enemies could also tap in to lines to pick up morse code transmissions, so the fullerphone, a quasi-encryption device, was employed. This electronically changed the way morse code signals were relayed and required special equipment on each end.
Voice transmission was quicker than morse code, but noisy lines and battle sounds tended to obscure the messages. A phonetic alphabet was perfected to aid in distinguishing letters. For instance, my name Neil would be spelled "November Echo India Lima" in the current alphabet. It changed many times over the years and varied between countries and military branches until it was standardized in 1957. That's probably good. During WWI my name would be phonetically spelled "Nan Easy Item Love." Sounds more like a proposition than military communication.
The advanced communications developments weren't enough to prevent catastrophes, however. The famous "Lost Battalion" had to rely on their last carrier pigeon to stop friendly fire on their position. Cher Ami, shot down by German troops, returned to flight and delivered the desperate message to headquarters that pleaded "For heavens sake stop it." Cher Ami would be saved by Army medics despite being shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and losing a leg. She was awarded many honors and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
As with most prolonged wars, technology advances at meteoric speeds, often benefiting civilization during peace time. Some inventions and improvements that came out of WWI that trickled into everyday use include the wristwatch, the compact camera, drones, zippers, stainless steel, plastic surgery, the sun lamp, and portable x-ray machines.
A hundred years seems so far off when you think about how far technology has advanced since then. But a lot of us have a direct connection to it. My grandpa fought in the last major battle alongside 1.2 million other doughboys in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive - just a month before the armistice. He was badly injured and disabled by bullets, shrapnel, and gas. A day earlier in a nearby forest, American hero Sergeant Alvin York singlehandedly killed or captured an entire German machine gun battalion. Since this Veterans Day marks the end of World War One, let's salute the soldiers who put their lives on the line running cable, hoisting giant antennas, lugging heavy equipment into battle zones, flying in airplanes and dirigibles to radio back information, and crawling through battlefields to telegraph enemy positions. And let's not forget the pigeons, dogs, and horses that continued a long tradition of carrying battle communiques and equipment in hellish conditions.
More information on technology and communications in World War One
First World War communications and the tele-net of things.
A history of first World War technology in 11 objects
Telecommunications in war
The science of World War I communications
Northern Ireland, the first to hear of the armistice via radio from Paris
A PDF of WWI military communications from the US Marine Corps Museum
The final hours of World War I
"Hello from the children of Planet Earth"
From the gold records aboard the twin Voyager spacecraft
Vinyl is the format that won't die. It'll probably still be around after humans are extinct and our sun has gone supernova. Perhaps in eons, Voyager spacecraft with the golden records aboard will meet distant stars and future vinyl lovers. But in this eon, people will not stop pushing vinyl to its limits. Mad scientists and crazy artists like putting something other than music on it - or in it. More on that later.
(Drop needle onto record, scratchy gramophone sound effect)
Let's start in 1927 with Scottish inventor John Logie Baird, the first person to demonstrate television. Logie, as he probably didn't like being called, was looking for a way to record and play back video. He turned to gramophone records, the kind that Duke Ellington and Rudy Valentino were on. We think of the 1950s as being the birth of video recordings, which were on magnetic tape. But the 1920s were right in the middle of the mechanical recording age, and it only seemed natural for Baird to attempt to capture this infant technology to a mature format. Ultimately he failed to play back video, but he was successful in capturing it to disc, a process he called Phonovision. Half a century later, Donald McLean rescued the images, as well as other video-to-disc recordings from that era.
(Heralding trumpet sound)
In the mid 60s through the 70s, RCA tried to put video on discs. Making a Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) was a very difficult process that involved cutting grooves 10 times denser than conventional LPs and coating the disc with a thin layer of metal and silicone lubricant. Each side of this fragile CED held 1 hour of video, had limited playback life, and had inferior quality to VHS. By the time of its release in 1981, VHS was winning over consumers.
(Sad trombone wah-wah-wah)
And speaking of Voyager, NASA and Dr. Carl Sagan ("Billions and billions" sound clip) crammed 115 images plus 90 minutes of voices and music onto gold-plated lacquer discs. They included a cartridge, needle, and instructions on how to play it back. One spacecraft is headed to a star called AC +79 3888, the other to Sirius. Let's hope whoever finds it has ears.
(Drum kit "bucket-of-fish")
But experimenters weren't done trying to squeeze more than grooves into grooves. Austrian artist Gebhard Sengmüller created the VinylVideo format in the 1990s, and it has been revived today by the German company Supersense. For about $225, you can buy a decoder that converts VinylVideo on a special release LP into a video signal. There are four discs available ($21), one from Motorhead, and one from the Courettes, which feature a really creepy dancing skeleton with a top hat. The video quality is...ahem...artsy at best. One reviewer recommended watching only "if you hate your eyes."
(Psycho violin stabs)
In the 1980s, a few artists and bands such as Chris Sievy, Pete Shelley, The Thompson Twins, and Shaky Stevens put software on vinyl. These were usually simple programs that contained lyrics, games, pictures, or crude video that supported the music. The idea of digital data as audio was not a new idea, as home computers used cassette decks to store and retrieve data, and phone lines carried data back and forth via modems.
(Pac-Man sound effect)
Other interesting vinyl mods over the years include pictures and holograms on the surface, hidden tracks, backwards-playing hidden messages, double-grooved sides with two programs, and clear or colored vinyl. Consumers love things that are different, and some artists have pushed the envelope to satisfy their fan base.
(Ta-da music cue)
We've talked about trying new things on the record, but what about "in" the record? Several artists have attempted, with some success, to put liquids inside the vinyl, essentially manufacturing a clear LP with a cavity under the grooves that contain injected liquid. Jack White put blue liquid in his "Sixteen Salteens" album; Worthless put red and green inside their "Greener Grass" LP; the "Friday the 13th" soundtrack album had blood-colored liquid inside; and not to be outdone, the Flaming Lips put real blood inside the "Heady Fwends" album. All of these were limited-release, and thank God only ten blood-filled albums were ever pressed.
(Evil laugh sound effect with echo)
With vinyl records selling very well to new audiences, what will some enterprising artist try next? Putting their live Instagram feed on the label? Projecting 3D holograms from the grooves? Communicating with vinyl lovers on a planet orbiting Sirius?
(Morse code sound effect, fade out)
"Treat the recording studio as a laboratory for conceptual thinking — rather than as a mere tool."
When I was young in the...cough...60s and 70s, the only real glimpses I got inside a recording studio was through television and movies. There was a smattering of documentaries and behind-the-scenes footage of studios and radio stations. I was always straining to see the control board and tape machines, or marveling at the cavernous studio on the other side of the glass. It was absolutely riveting to peek inside them and see how a record was made. The 8-foot long mixing console was often shot through a fisheye lens. Long-haired musicians were sunk down into a couch smoking cigarettes (?) and listening to their masterpiece. And there were close-up shots of that big fat 2-inch tape rolling past the heads of the recorder.
"The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What did Paul Revere's famous midnight ride from Boston to Lexington sound like in April 1775? If you were there, you might recognize the approaching horse as a Narragansett Pacer mare. This once popular breed of horse, now extinct, was known for its ambling gait: a smooth riding four-beat gait that is faster than a walk, but slower than a canter or gallop. You might also notice the calm surroundings interrupted occasionally by crow calls, trees rustling in the wind, or the occasional farm dog barking at the stranger barreling down the rough dirt road. Just someone in a hurry.
I wonder how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard it in his head in 1860? Longfellow brought the nearly obscure ride by Revere into the public consciousness with his poem "Paul Revere's Ride." For impact, he glorified the ride with creative license and literary tools to warn that our country was about to fall apart (it did with the Civil War). I would think that those hoofbeats were probably a bit louder and more urgent in his mind.
What about you? Now that you know the significance of that ride, can you hear the thundering hoofbeats, the snorting horse, the jingling bridle, and Revere snapping his reins and kicking his heels into the giant beast's sides? Maybe Tim Burton or JJ Abrams has influenced your imagination. We've been conditioned by Hollywood to "hear" history differently from what it probably really sounded like. Guiding the listener is the cornerstone of sound design, so a movie about the famous ride might have those hoofbeats sound more explosive than truthful. In the end, it may be worthwhile if we simultaneously entertain and bring light to Revere's contributions to the Revolution.
Liz Covart, host of the podcast "Ben Franklin’s World" and Digital Projects Editor at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, VA wondered in a blog post: how authentic should sound designers be with history? She points out that our environment is much different than it was 250 years ago. We have paved roads, differently constructed buildings, powered transportation, industry, and many more people. With the majority of Americans living in urban areas today (6% in 1800, 80% in 2018), our perception of a quiet night is quite different than Paul Revere's. We modern Americans also have a collective naïveté of what a galloping steed on a dirt road would really sound like because we have replaced horses with horseless carriages.
If there's one thing I've learned about sound design, it's that real sounds of life sound really lifeless. Like Liz Covert, I would also ponder accuracy while telling Paul Revere's story with sound. Do I record a pacer's ambling gate on a deserted country road? Hopefully I could find someplace free of airplanes, cars, machinery, and other people. (I wrote about the rarity of quiet places in one of my A Sound Education articles). Or maybe I take the Hollywood route and have the ride sound larger than life? I think it depends on the audience. If it's a room full of scholars who delight in historical accuracy, then go with the pacer. If it's a cinema full of families with popcorn and Jujubes, then go with the thunder. Or maybe a pacer mixed with thunder...but let's not overthink this.
Speaking of horses, here's a real-world example of blending authenticity with impact. I worked for several years on the crew for the Triple Crown Radio Network. We broadcast the three legs of the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes), and the Breeder's Cup races. One of our challenges was how to add excitement to the sound of the race. We had to do much experimentation within boundaries and rules to find the right sounds of each race. For instance, we were not allowed to mount a wireless mic on a horse of jockey to catch the sounds of riding. We were also limited to how many mics we could use trackside to capture hoofbeats. We tried a parabolic mic (those big dish-looking contraptions on the sidelines of a football game), but the sound was thin and the track too large for complete coverage. What we ended up doing – and this is like finding out how a magic trick is done – was to pre-record hoofbeats at each track under a variety of conditions, and then blend those into the mix.
We were very keen on keeping the race sounding as organic as we could. We installed several supercardioid shotgun microphones along the stretch run of each track and recorded races over several days. We would then layer a few of these and create an endless audio loop for that particular race track. We were also very careful to have different loops for different track conditions, so if it was raining and sloppy, we had that distinctive sound for that racetrack. When the race began, our mix engineer would subtly blend in the looped sound underneath live microphones we already had installed around the track. As the horses came down the stretch to the finish line, he would fade out the loop and fade in the trackside boom microphones for the authentic live sounds of hoofbeats, whips, and jockey shouts. This was the sound of real live thundering hooves making history.
"I have been at work for some time building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us."
Thomas Edison, 1920
What if you nonchalantly recorded something around your house, let's say a music practice session. Then when you played it back, you clearly hear someone whispering. You didn't hear it when you recorded it, so what was it? Many unfamiliar sounds throughout history can be attributed to nature, machinery, and even hoaxes. As our post-industrial society grows, so does the list of unexplained sounds, like trumpet sounds from the sky, humming cities, and ocean whistles. The proliferation of audio and video technology has generated its own tally of the strange. Specifically, weird voices that have been inadvertently and unknowingly captured. These recordings and transmissions sound eerie but have a very unsexy-sounding name: "Electronic Voice Phenomenon," or EVP.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Arthur C. Clarke
To the average person, audio can be a
mysterious "myth-terious" thing. Many people don't want to admit that they are intimidated by the technical side of it, and that makes sense. The closest most people get to manipulating audio is adjusting the volume on their stereo. I bust 10 common myths about recording audio.
"The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings."
Ralph Carpenter, Texas Tech Sports Information Director
Richard Wagner, the 19th century German composer, would have loved Star Wars. He may not have understood what a light saber or X-Wing fighter was, but he would get it - even with his eyes shut. That's because the Star Wars films are rich with composer John Williams' scores that employ a musical tool that Wagner himself was a master of: the leitmotif.
"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? "
Bell Labs was born more than a hundred years ago out of the need to improve the nascent telephone. It grew into a pure research facility that made an astounding number of scientific discoveries, improved or invented new technologies, and even influenced art and music.
"Analog is more beautiful than digital, really, but we go for comfort."
There's been a growing trend over the last several years to bring back the sound of classic analog gear, such as compressors and amps with vacuum tubes, ribbon microphones, and even reel-to-reel tape. Let's look at how old school charm is finding new love.
"The rockets came like drums, beating in the night."
From "The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury
Walter Gripp is the last man on Mars. All the rockets to Earth have launched without him. One evening in a deserted town, he hears a phone ringing. This creepy scenario from Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles has captured the fascination of science fiction fans for decades. The reader wonders, who could it be? The scientist wonders, what would it sound like? We're about to find out...maybe.Read More...
"Shh! Listen! Someone's coming! I think -- I think it might be us!"
J. K. ROWLING, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Imagine if we could time travel without changing history. If we could go back 50 or 100 years would people view our technology as magic? If we were visited by time travelers from the future, would their technology be magic to us?
"Cooking is like music: you can tell when someone puts love into it.”
The transition from mono to stereo music recordings in the late 1950s had its challenges. Find out how Rudy Van Gelder and other recording engineers worked out the details.Read More...
"Every crowd has a silver lining.”
126.4 I think that's what will be inside a little oval sticker that I'm going to put on my bumper. I see "26.2" bumper stickers that marathon runners proudly display. Colorado mountain climbers have "14er" stickers. A lot of dads are number "1." Then what's so special about 126.4? It used to be a number for Kings, but now it's a number for Cats.
Before I start to sound like a broken record, let me back up and tell this story from the beginning. Team Cornett wanted to raise the profile of UK Health Care and their close association with UK Athletics, so they came up with a plan to get the attention of a sports crowd. There's no better place for a hyped up crowd than Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington. With nearly 24,000 people, its been known to get really loud in there. It would be the perfect place to try and break the world record for the loudest crowd roar at an indoor sports event. And what basketball game would have the biggest and loudest crowd? A made-for-ESPN-TV marquee matchup: Kentucky versus Kansas.
"The key to this plan is the giant laser. It was invented by the noted Cambridge physicist Dr. Parsons. Therefore, we shall call it the Alan Parsons Project."
Here's something that will blow your mind and make you paranoid at the same time. Someone can listen to your conversations in your house or office from hundreds of feet away using light. The "light" is a "laser," and it's bounced off a window pane to detect sound vibrations. It's hard not to imagine Dr. Evil, played by Mike Meyers, air quoting "laser" when we mention that word. The theory was first proposed in the 1940s, but had to wait until lasers were actually invented in the 1960s to gain traction. By the 80s, the Cold War had us and the Soviets spying on each other using "lasers."Read More...
“Square in your ship's path are Sirens, crying beauty to bewitch men coasting by;
woe to the innocent who hears that sound!”
by Homer in The Odyssey
I live on a busy street. My house sits roughly between three hospitals - all with helipads and emergency rooms. That's good for me if I have a really bad day, but my poor cat thinks wolves are after her whenever someone else is having a really bad day. I'm talking about the incessant sirens going up and down my street. And they seem to be getting louder – they penetrate my windows and brick walls with even more ferocity than ever before. It turns out that I'm not imagining this, because some emergency vehicles are now employing something called "low frequency system," or LFS. I call it "Loud F*@#$%^& Siren."
In addition to the regular high yelp of a siren, you may have noticed a lower yelping sound that seems to penetrate your car and go straight through your chest. That emergency vehicle has a secondary siren system that emits powerful omnidirectional bass tones from about 200-400 Hz. In this range, sound is "felt" more than heard - up to 200 feet away. These frequencies can penetrate auto glass and metal, wood and brick buildings, and human flesh and bones.
"I hate modern car radios. In my car, I don't even have a push-button radio. It's just got a dial and two knobs. Just AM."
Maybe you haven't noticed, but AM radio has pretty much sucked the last twenty years or so. Maybe you didn't notice because you weren't listening. A lot of people aren't, and the FCC is out to change that. The FCC? You bet – this isn't your father's FCC. We're so used to hearing "FCC" and "restrictions" in the same breath, that broadcasters were pleasantly surprised last October when the FCC announced an "AM Revitalization" initiative.
"I throw more power into my voice, and now the flame is extinguished"
Physicist John Tyndall, 1857
There's been a recent breakthrough in fighting fires - using sound waves to extinguish flames. Since 1857, scientists have known that sound waves could put out a flame, but they weren't exactly sure why.Read More...
"I hope I inspire people who hear. Hearing people have the ability to remove barriers that prevent deaf people from achieving their dreams."
Did you know that more than 37 million Americans aged 18 or older have some kind of hearing loss? And 30 million Americans aged 12 or older have hearing loss in both ears? With a media-rich society, that makes listening to narration, dialog, and speech in general difficult for them. Before 1972, anyone hard of hearing had to watch television with the volume turned up.
"If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners."
Eighty-six years ago, three musical tones, "G-E-C," were played on a fledgling network of radio stations. What started as a technical cue for local stations, has become an instantly recognized trio of notes woven into the American identity.Read More...
"They number girl spies different. She's what you call a 36-23-36."
Max Baer, Jr. as "Jethro Bodine"
Double-Naught SpiesThis month, the new James Bond spy movie Spectre will be released. It's the 24th film in the long-running franchise based on Ian Fleming's novels. "Hot Dog!" as Jethro Bodine would say. James Bond and all his gadgets were hatched from Fleming's experiences while serving in the British Navy Intelligence Division during World War Two.
Gathering intelligence during any war requires innovative and clandestine communication techniques, especially deep within the enemy lines. In the Revolutionary War, invisible ink and garments on a clothesline were tools to send secret messages. The Civil War saw women disguising themselves as nurses, slaves, and even soldiers to gather and smuggle information. During World War One, the human body itself became a vehicle for secret messages via invisible tattoos. Read More...
"Podcasting - I swear to you - on its worst day, the podcasts are better than our best films. Because they're more imaginative, and there's no artifice, and it's far more real."
Podcasting RevisitedModern podcasting has now been around a little more than 10 years now. The roots go back much further, into the 1980's in fact. The idea of subscribing to an internet-delivered audio service dates to the early 1990's. But it wasn't until portable devices, such as the iPod, came onto the scene that it really took off. History shows that portability drives popularity – the battery-operated radio, the portable record player, the audio cassette, and the funky 8-track. I remember the iPod being described as a digital "Walkman," even though poor Sony already had moved beyond the cassette into portable digital players. Read More...
"Science is magic that works"
That Magic Sound
Researcher Dr. Diana Deutsch at UC San Diego has been studying the psychology of sound since the mid-1960's. Her findings illustrate how people can hear musical tones wildly different from each other. These "illusions" can cause great disagreements between listeners, even highly trained musicians. And interestingly, one group of stereo illusions has right-handers and left-handers perceiving them differently. Read More...
"If a tree falls in the forest, and hits a mime, does anyone care?"
Shhh! Quiet!Have you been hiking lately? Where'd you go? Red River Gorge? The Smokey Mountains? Yosemite? In the last 10 years, have you ever experienced a place devoid of all human sounds? Gordon Hempton, an Emmy-Award-winning recordist, claims there are less than a dozen places left in the continental U.S. that are "quiet." Hempton defines "quiet" as a natural environment that has no human-intrusion sounds for at least twenty minutes.
In 1984, Hempton, who has been recording nature sounds since the mid-1970's, identified 21 locations in his home state of Washington that were "quiet." By the early 90's, there were only 3 places left, one of which is tucked away in Olympia National Park. He won't reveal where the other two are. Sadly, he believes there are no quiet places left in Europe.
The documentary Sound Tracker follows Hempton in his quest for these quiet places throughout the Pacific Northwest. His efforts over the last 25 years to preserve the sounds of nature have culminated in his campaign "One Square Inch of Silence." He seeks to identify and protect places that are totally free of human sounds. The focal point is that place in Olympia National Park's Hoh Rain Forest, which is marked by a small red stone given to him by an elder of the Native American Quileute tribe.
About five years ago, I took a portable recorder on a hike into the Red River Gorge. I wanted to capture long periods of natural ambience for my sound effects archives. It was a flop. You'd be surprised how often a plane or jet flies overhead, a loud muffler guns it up a hill, someone yells or whistles, or - gasp - a gunshot goes off. As anyone who has worked outside on location knows, it's nearly impossible to have even thirty seconds of silence.
The only time I can remember being out of earshot of any human for an extended length of time was on an island beach off the Gulf coast of Florida. This was in the late 1980's on a weekday before the tourists showed up. The loudest sound I heard was a flock of flamingos taking off. After about 20 minutes, the sounds of "civilization" started to ruin my solitude.
With all the debate over environmental pollution, sound is rarely included in those discussions. Maybe it's about time to address it. Airplanes, sirens, loud cars, loud traffic, loud music, generators, ships, trains - you name it, we have more of them. And coming to a quiet place near you, drones. The next generation of humans may never get to experience "quiet places." If they do, it might frighten them.
More about Sound Tracker
Excellent article and interview with Gordon Hempton in The Sun
Did You Know?
- Gordon Hempton won an Emmy for his PBS documentary Vanishing Dawn Chorus.
- Why does Hempton define "quiet" as 20 minutes? It's the approximate length of a 7" reel of analog tape running at 15 inches-per-second.
- Before digital recorders, Hempton captured sounds in the field using a Nagra reel-to-reel portable recorder. The Nagra was considered one of the purest and most accurate reel-to-reel recorders ever produced.
- Studies have shown that noise pollution affects some species' survival rates, especially those that rely on sound more than vision.
- Oceans even have noise pollution from shipping, pipelines, and Navy sonar.
- For decades, people around the earth have complained about low humming sounds. They have been wrongly blamed on power transformers, submarines, pipelines, and fish. But recent discoveries by seismologists point the finger at microseismic reactions from ocean waves pounding the sea floor. Our planet vibrates and hums naturally.
- Birds in rainforests that imitate other sounds have begun to sing like cell phones, chainsaws, and car alarms.
- The Hoh rain forest in Olympia National Park has an average yearly rainfall of 12-14 feet.
- The popular philosophical question, "If a tree falls..." can trace its origins to 1710 from philosopher George Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. "But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park [...] and nobody by to perceive them."
- The philosophical question has sometimes been turned into a scientific one, noting that sound is a human experience. Air molecules bumping into each other only become sound if they are captured by a human ear and transmitted to the brain via nerves.
- Some funny twists of the phrase include "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, where are they?" by The Canadian Air Farce comedy troupe; and "If a man speaks in the forest, and there is no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?" by singer Maura O'Connell.
"Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning."
There was a recent study* that tried to understand how audio quality affected the perceived quality of the human voice. The researchers understood from the beginning that the results could be highly subjective, but they approached it using measurable methods. While tallying up the results, they were surprised by one finding they weren't attempting to measure. But it's something we in the advertising and production business already knew. Read More...
“Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.”
3D Audio on the Right Track
It's said that when an early motion picture was first shown to the public, women fainted and men ducked from an approaching train. The director made a bold new decision that would alter the course of filmmaking for the next century. Instead of just placing the camera in front of all the action like an audience watching a stage, the director moved the camera to a new position - within the action - to create perspective. That’s been happening in filmmaking ever since. But the same has been happening in sound as well. And now with emerging technologies, virtual 3D sound is now here. Read More...
The new generation is discovering what the old generation stopped loving - LPs. LP sales are the highs they’ve been in 22 years. Records aren’t just for hipsters anymore, everyone, including the older generation that gave them up, are groovin’ to them.Read More...
“Within You Without You,” The Beatles
The Color of Sound
How would you describe a sound to someone without using descriptors that are unique to sound, like: loud, bassy, shrill, whining, atonal, or noisy?
Not a problem, because we most often describe a sonic experience with words related to our other senses: sharp, warm, angular, raspy, piercing, even, warbling, soft, smooth, or flat.
What about blue? I think of that as more of a style of music or mood instead of a type of sound. Why don't we use more colors to describe what we hear? Probably because a "yellow" sound could be cowardly. A "green" sound may be eco-friendly. A "purple" sound is probably regal. A "brown" sound - well, we'll leave that one alone.
What if we could see sound? Aside from graphical representations of sound like waveforms and meters, we can't just look at an orchestra and see sounds flying out of the trombones. I wish we could watch the beautiful tones flow from Itzhak Perlman's Stradivarius.
But we can - sort of. As reported by NPR, we can see certain sounds using a technique invented in the mid-19th century. Click on the link above to read about and watch a short video describing this process to get a clearer picture. To simplify, scientists watch the disturbance of heat waves by sound. Ever look down a highway on a hot summer day and see the heat creating wavy images? Scientists have used this phenomenon to "see" sneezes and aircraft wing turbulence. But Michael Hargather at New Mexico Tech uses it to study explosives.
So what's next? I would love be able to put on some goggles and see sounds and where they're coming from. Loud sounds would be bright. Bass would be blue, treble would be white, and green, red, and yellow would fill in the gaps. Imagine seeing green waves and ripples emanating from the violas, bubbles of blue from the tuba, and distinct columns of yellow and white from the violins. It would be like Peter Max was the conductor. With technology advancing at such a rapid rate, this may not be so far-fetched in our lifetimes. Color me crazy.
Did You Know?
- "White noise" in sound engineering describes randomly generating all the sounds in the frequency spectrum. SInce the sounds aren't generated at the same time, they are measured over a period of time. Each sound is at a consistent level.
- White noise sounds similar to a radio that is tuned to no station.
- White noise is often used in large offices to mask sounds from workers, computers, and other office machinery. People also use white noise generators to aid in sleeping.
- "Pink noise" is similar to white noise, but decreases in intensity each ascending octave.
- Pink noise is primarily used to measure the output of an audio device.
- Sound engineers play pink noise over monitor systems to check frequency response and level of speakers. If measurements show that a speaker produces some frequencies differently than the pink noise (more bass for example), then it is considered to have a "colored" response. Pro audio speaker manufacturers strive for a "flat" response from their products. This way an engineer isn't fooled into compensating for the difference while mixing.
- Live sound engineers use pink noise to reduce feedback and get maximum performance from speakers.
- Other types of noise used in analysis are violet, brown(ian), gray, blue. Other informal names for sound used in measurement are red, green, black, noisy black, and noisy white.
Tech NotesReducing feedback in a live sound situation is very tricky, especially if good sound performance is desired. The "squeal" you hear when a microphone is turned on is from a buildup of a certain frequency. It's usually the point at which the microphone and speaker are the most efficient. If one points a microphone at the same speaker that is amplifying it, then serious feedback occurs. Most speakers are placed in front of or beside performers so there is no direct bleed back into the microphone. If speakers are placed behind the performers (think The Who), then eliminating feedback is a bigger chore.
How do you eliminate feedback? Let's use the simplest set-up as an example: one microphone and one speaker. A graphic equalizer (GEQ), a device that increases or reduces frequency by octaves, is inserted after the microphone channel and just before the amplifier. The engineer slowly raises the amplifier level until the first inkling of feedback. Using the GEQ, the engineer locates the offending octave, ex: 630 Hz, by actually increasing that frequency creating more feedback. That octave is then reduced until feedback goes away.
Next, then amplifier is turned up a little more until the next inkling of feedback occurs, usually at another frequency, which is then reduced. These steps are repeated over and over until the amplifier is at a suitable level without feedback. Of course computer technology has simplified this process greatly with devices that rapidly reduce feedback "on-the-fly." And with software, engineers for permanent PA systems in large venues can even predict where feedback will occur before installation. They can then program in filtering or make changes to the architecture, equipment, or speaker placement.
Turn it Down!The volume is getting turned down on television commercials. What does that mean for you, the producer or advertiser? Well, you can still scream all you want, but you just won't be louder than the latest installment of a Fast and Furious movie. The CALM Act (The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, 2011) that President Obama signed into law last December mandates that TV stations and networks reduce the volume of commercials to match the program level. How will they comply? The simplest method is to install equipment that automatically balances the commercials with the program. However this solves one problem and creates another - the perception of loudness remains, even though the volume is lower. This is all because of "dynamic range," or lack thereof.
Let's say you have a one-gallon bucket sitting on your lap as you race your Fast and Furious hot rod through the streets of Tokyo. However, it's not water that's in that bucket - it's hydrochloric acid. And you must have the bucket as full as you can without spilling any acid. If you fill it to the rim, you'll surely spill it, so you opt for half full because of your wild race. The acid wildly splashes around inside the bucket's free space but doesn't land in your lap. This "free space" is called headroom in the audio world. It's how much audio space you have above the average dialog for things like sound effects and music to peak. This creates more impact between the elements, and is closer to the way we hear real life sounds. Movies and television dramas use this space very effectively. But when a commercial comes crashing in, it's occupying ALL of this free space, with very little headroom. It's like taking a pit stop and having a bucket completely full of acid put in your lap.
It's pretty unfair to fully burden the broadcasters with policing the sound levels. It starts with producers, recording studios, and advertisers to not fill that bucket up in the first place. The biggest challenge we engineers have when mixing commercials is how to squeeze voice, music and effects into a very small space where everything is loud. If we expand the dynamic range from the start by lowering the narration, then our commercials should better blend with the program. Let's calm things down and take a nice Sunday afternoon drive in the country instead.
Dynamix Tech Notes
How do we know where to put sound levels when mixing? The average dialog level is placed at a certain volume depending on where the program will be heard, such as movie theater, DVD, or television. This "average" level is measured using a slow-moving audio meter. OK, you're going to have to think in reverse to understand the next part. The meter we use has a scale from 0 (loudest) to about -60 (silence). Average cinema dialog usually rides around -20. The average television program averages -14 (this is louder than -20), with commercials and sports around -12 (slightly louder than -14). The reason cinema's lower is to have more headroom for sound effects. Also, theaters are able to handle the higher levels because of their robust sound systems.
Sometimes commercials are mixed with an average dialog level between -6 and -10, significantly louder than television programs. Both commercials and programs are still within limits, but the commercials are pounding the loudest portions of the scale. This limited dynamic range is why it's so difficult to fit narration, sound effects, and music into this tight space.
No, it's not the Kentucky Derby. It's an overcrowded commercial with too much information that's been crammed into 30 seconds. Read More...
Recreating the Sounds of the Civil WarBeing in the "Horse Capital of the World," we surely have enough experience to know that a horse sounds much like it did 150 years ago. However, back then a horse's role was very different than today. In a new documentary, "Unsung Hero: The Horse in the Civil War," produced by Witnessing History, LLC for HRTV (Horse Racing TV Network), the role of the horse in the American Civil War is explored in-depth with rarely-seen photographs, documents and artwork. To a sound designer's delight, there are simulated battle scenes, troop movements, and other war action. Some are new videos of re-enactors, and others are artwork and photos. The opoortunity to bring these to life with sounds and music is why we love what we do. Dynamix Productions has previously produced soundtracks for two Civil War documentaries ("Long Road Back to Kentucky" and "Retreat from Gettysburg"), so our cache of sound effects has been growing. We even did field recordings during two re-enactments as well as studio recordings of Civil War-era weapons.
Every documentary requires its own approach as to how realistic or dreamy the sound effects are. In "Long Road Back," many scenes were very specific with close-ups of cannons, guns, and fighting. These took on an almost movie-like feel. In "Retreat," we backed off some and chose more ambient sections, with a sprinkle of realistic moments. It had many scenes of soldiers marching, so we created large troop movements from scratch by layering walking and marching with different shoes and surfaces. In "Unsung Hero," there are minimal re-enactments, so general background sounds supported by emotional music lift the visuals. More horse sound effects were used in this documentary than the other two. Each story is unique, that's why there were three different approaches to one era of time.
Dynamix Tech Notes
How do you record a cannon? Very carefully! Actually, it pays to buddy up with the gunners and learn the sequence of operation. During a Civil War re-enactment several years ago I needed to record cannons for a documentary. By talking with the crew I learned what orders were given during certain phases of loading, firing, and cleaning. I was located a hundred feet or so from the cannons, so I had to carefully watch hand signals. I also learned that the sound of live round cannons are very different that blanks. Thankfully they weren't going to shoot live rounds that day with a crowd, so I had to settle with blanks - still very loud.
The largest technical challenge was the extreme sound pressure, or loudness. You actually feel the shock wave hit you when a cannon is fired. A tiny, delicate, and sensitive microphone wouldn't handle this very well. I had to use microphones that could handle the loud sounds, the same kind usually used for percussion. To increase my success rate I recorded each shot at different levels, reducing it on each shot. The last bit of the technical puzzle was a recorder capable of recording high dynamic ranges. These cannons were definitely louder than the threshold of pain (130 dB-SPL) and a jet engine at 100 feet (150 dB-SPL). Because of tremendous advances in technology, my recorder was able to record at least 48 dB more sound level than what was available just 15 years ago. That's a factor of almost 100,000. It's pretty much the difference between a cannonball and a mountain.
- Thomas Edison
- Alan Parson
- Am radio
- Am Radio
- Amy Winehouse
- Angels on Stage
- Artificial intelligence
- ATR Magnetics
- Audio engineer
- Bell Labs
- Big Bang
- Book on tape
- Brown noise
- Carrier pigeon
- Civil War
- Dynamix Productions
- ear training
- Film Sound
- Fleetwood Mac
- Fritz Lang
- George Clooney
- Guinness World Record
- Hearing aid
- Jack White
- John Mellancamp
- John Williams
- Ken Burns
- Led Belly
- Lenny Kravitz
- Les Paul
- Mary Ford
- Morse code
- Noise reduction
- Oculus Rift
- Pink noise
- Ray Bradbury
- Recording arts
- Recording school
- Reel to reel
- Richard Wagner
- Rudy Van Gelder
- Rupp Arena
- Sir Isaac Newton
- sound effects
- sound pressure level
- Star Wars
- surround sound
- Taylor Swift
- Thomas Edison
- Time travel
- US Navy
- virtual reality
- White noise